Suicide and the Individual

So my last post was in response to an article that I read in the Globe and Mail on Teen Suicide. This post is a bit of an elaboration on the same subject but less specific: suicide, not teen suicide.

In my last post, I ended it with the following words:

It makes me upset that people keep blaming individuals in society. In my opinion, the problem is the institutions within society. Isn’t it after all that the institutions influence individuals? I think so.

And yes, it does make me upset that people always blame the individuals in society for suicide. I never read or hear about people “blaming institutions.” What do I mean by this? Well, I believe individuals are tied to institutions but those institutions are the same items in society that withhold individuals from embarking on their greatest potential.

But, heck, what does THAT even mean?

A couple basic examples of institutions include family, marriage, religion/church, government, schools. If there is too much of an institutional influence on an individual then what are they without the institution? Perhaps nothing more than just a thing. Society teaches individuals that they must have a family… a marriage…be in school… in order to amount to anything or at least live a meaningful life. I beg to differ. I can exist without a family. In fact, a lot of people can exist without a family but what if in one’s life everything around them is telling them that they must love their parents, must love their siblings, must love their cousins… blah blah blah. What if those “institutions” are the very thing that is “sick” instead of the individual? Yes, that is right I said it. School can be broken. Marriage can be broken. Even family can be broken.

Too much of an institution that is sick or broken can make someone feel less of the potential person that they can be. If potential cannot be reached, how can an individual continue to exist? If a person cannot amount to their full potential, then what are they, even if the very institutions that exist within their lives are the same things that are preventing them from being the best “thing” that they can be?

Take for instance, school and teen suicide. There is always the theme of bullying or lack of acceptance or isolation that occurs within the teen who choose to take their own life. School is sick. Not the individual.

What about the teen who, my heart goes out to, choose to take their own life because of family life at home AND at school? Both institutions prevented them from reaching their own potential.

But what is potential?

Potential is being able to be their own self without having to be ridiculed, isolated, bullied, etc. etc. within these institutions.

School creates isolation. Marriage creates isolation. Families create isolation. Governments create isolation. When someone is isolated from the very things that society tells them they must have, then what is the person left with? Feelings of not being accepted, not being embraced, not being loved.

So how do we get rid of these feelings of isolation? Create acceptance. Create love. Create nurturing environments.

I am sick and tired of reading about suicide and other individuals blaming the individual. The suicidal individual may not be the one who is sick; it may be the very institution in which one exists that is sick.

That is all.

Teen Suicide

I couldn’t agree more with Melissa Carroll, PhD candidate at McMaster University, when she says in the Globe and Mail article titled “Mental Illness? Yes, but also homophobia”:

But the larger question remains: Why? What are we as a community not addressing? What a well-rounded argument makes clear is that outside factors such as hatred, ignorance and violence are conditioned by adults and placing vulnerable teens in harm’s way. Suicide is not just a personal problem; it’s also a socially supported act we each need to seriously address, with all facts on the table.

The article isn’t blaming homophobia for teen suicide but it is pointing out the fact that a large number of LGBT teens are the ones committing suicide. So what is it about homophobia? Racism? Classism? Sexism? Or gender oppression that is linked to suicide.

Just as Melissa notes, the hatred, ignorance and violence that are conditioned by adults. So are adults to blame? No but I think adults should step up. Growing up, adults in schools, like teachers, allow students to be bullied. They also influence other students’ view points or knowledge on a certain group of people, whether the group is a certain ethnic, racial, gender group and even one belonging to a particular orientation.

I mean, isn’t it after all the purpose of school to socialize young people to be a certain way, follow the rules, be polite, and hopefully contribute to society in one way or another. Am I blaming teachers? No. Am I blaming schools? No. Am I blaming education? Yeah, why not.

Being an Aboriginal person who has gone to a Catholic elementary school and then a public high school, not once did we learn about what really happened in the history of Canada. Oh but it was the one teacher who called her own student the “stupid Indian.” And it was the history teacher that told her class that residential schools were created to educate “the natives.” The more correct word should have been to assimilate. And being in an post-secondary institution today, I can only learn about Canadian history by actually signing up for those programs and if I read a book a dedicated to First Nations people and their history.

It makes me upset that people keep blaming individuals in society. In my opinion, the problem is the institutions within society. Isn’t it after all that the institutions influence individuals? I think so.

Western Medicine versus Traditional Medicine

This past summer I had the opportunity to work on a research team. I learned quite a bit. There was a lot of things that I had learned about the research process and the time and effort that goes into such a thing. I remember I was asked my input on a particular document. I read it over and I realized that the one thing that was not included was “Traditional Medicine.”

Growing up, I had seen both my pediatrician and also a traditional healer. One day, I had this pain in my arm and did not know what it was from (okay, well actually it was from the tiny temporary tattoo that I put on over the weekend). I woke up in the middle of the night and told my mom that my arm hurt. She took a look at my arm and then decided to literally scrub off the tattoo–right then and there, I was told not to put on another temporary tattoo.

A couple of days later I woke up and my arm was swollen and red and we did not know what was wrong. I then went with my dad to go see a traditional healer. The healer gave me some medicine and sent me on my way. By the time I got home, it was worse. We called the traditional healer and he immediately told us what to do: Go to the hospital emergency and ask for this particular medication (I cannot remember what type of medication because I was just so scared at the site of my arm). The healer told us, “She is allergic to the glue in the tattoo and the medicine.” Who would have known?

By the time we go to the hospital, we were rushed into a bed and blood work was drawn, tests were done and then I was put up in the pediatric wing of the hospital; I stayed there for almost a week. I remember my mom asking my pediatrician when he saw me that this was the medication she needed and she kept trying to tell him I was allergic to the glue in the tattoo I had on my arm. The pediatrician didn’t listen. I continued to stay in the hospital. From those days that I stayed in the hospital, my mom continued to ask the pediatrician and the nurses for this medication and trying to tell them that this is what I was allergic to. Nobody listened. I had to wear this dressing over my arm and medicated cream was applied to my arm almost every 4 hours. I missed school, didn’t sleep very well and just hated being at the hospital.

At the end of my stay, the pediatrician walks in with his little clipboard and announces to my mom, “Well she is allergic to something but we don’t know what she is allergic to.” My mom looked at the doctor and said, “I told you so.” He gave me the medication she asked for and told her that I shouldn’t be wearing any more temporary tattoos.

The lesson I learned, some Western medicine practitioners will always view it self as the only option. Some of you might ask, well why would you go to a pediatrician if your traditional healer has all the answers? Our traditional healers are great but I also remember one day that I was told that “Sometimes we need outside help and it is okay to ask for help from those Western doctors.”

It is strange how the traditional side will tell us that it is okay to ask for help and even recommend us going to the hospital or to the specialist. But if an Aboriginal person chooses to go the traditional route they are ignored when it comes to trying to get the referral or the proper care from the Western side. When I was working on this team, I tried to tell them the importance of traditional healers. It wasn’t that they recognized that the healers existed, it was just that the importance of it all was not put in their “language.” In other words, it was not put in a research report. Then that one day as I was browsing the net, I found this report:

Assessing the Institutionalization of Traditional Aboriginal Medicine

Yes there are some downsides but the overall outcome of allowing better access to traditional healers and keeping that tradition alive is much greater than it is by not acknowledging it for Aboriginal people. When I read over this report, there was one thing that stuck out,

The issue of education and community outreach is important and complex. Health providers are not entirely cognizant of the healing methods and the effectiveness of traditional Aboriginal medicine (though there are exceptions). One clinical provider admitted to knowing nothing of the program upon arrival at Noojmowin and best described the encounter as ―mysterious. This despite a genuine interest of the clinician to learn and understand the program and only a year later became familiar with the program. This also relates to the issue of referrals—one cannot refer to something that is not understood. Outside of this example, there is some indication an informal separation between clinical and the traditional medicine exists evidenced by the ―silo comments. This is not entirely problematic since the program is functioning and communication does take place. Again, this is an issue that can be addressed more effectively. A possible option is the creation of a traditional healing ―handbook designed for clinical providers to serve as a basic reference for traditional healing. If this is pursued, it must be done in a way that ensures there is adequate education while at the same time protecting Indigenous knowledge.

This report only dealt with the health care providers that worked in the same building as the traditional healers. I think that if health care is being provided in such a culturally diverse country then at least one should not be afraid to go either the traditional route and/or the Westernized route and not be fearful to be ostracized or ignored by the more dominant group.

Traditional medicine is something that is very close to me and that I value as an Aboriginal person, but so is Western medicine. Because as the traditional healer said to me that day, “We sometimes need that extra help.”

Globalization: Corporate Social Responsibility

Truth is: I am not a fan of euphemisms and I am not sure who else is either, besides politicians.

One euphemism that I am not particularly fond is “globalization.” In a previous post, I shared an essay that I wrote last year. I discussed why Aboriginal women do not benefit from globalization. In that essay I explained the definition of globalization as follows:

Globalization is an ambiguous term with multiple meanings. When applying ambiguous terms to a specific group of people, caution should be taken because these terms and their concepts may seem to only benefit part of the group, rather than the whole group. A definition of what globalization is and how it pertains to Aboriginal people should be established. In Globalization and Self-Government: Impacts and Implications for First Nations in Canada, Gabrielle A. Slowey points out that globalization is a “common term…with a variety of meanings [and] for some, it is a dangerous euphemism” (266). Globalization as it is relevant to Aboriginal peoples can be defined as the corporate control over resources for profit. Furthermore, Slowely describes globalization as “corporations [assuming] a more dominate role in all spheres of life” (265). This corporate dominated role suggests that globalization is purely profit driven, and in the corporate world, people are unconcerned with the under-privileged, like Aboriginal women. Another question relating to globalization and Aboriginal peoples is what is it exactly that corporations seek to control? As it pertains to Aboriginal peoples, corporations seek to control natural resources. In Globalization as Racialized, Sexualized Violence, Rauna Kuokkanen describes globalization as “a form of oppression that is linked to patriarchy” (218) and “this patriarchal control [is] over those defined as subordinate, whether women, indigenous peoples or the environment (‘natural resources’)” (222). Koukkanen shows that corporations seek to control those who are considered subordinate, which includes women, Aboriginal people, and their natural resources. Aboriginal women are then a unique group to the world of globalization because they are connected to issues relating to women, to race, and to natural resources. Therefore, this essay defines globalization as a purely profit driven, corporate dominating concept that seeks to control the natural resources of Aboriginal people in a top-down fashion.

With this definition of globalization, I think it gives birth to the concept of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). There are various forms of CSR. Some of them I agree with and some of them I don’t really like especially when it comes to globalization and big corporations.

CSR is defined as “the way companies integrate social, environmental, and economic concerns into their values and operations in a transparent and accountable manner. It is integral to long-term business growth and success, and it also plays an important role in promoting Canadian values internationally and contributing to the sustainable development of communities. The Government of Canada works with the Canadian business community, civil society groups, with foreign governments and communities as well as other stakeholders to foster and promote CSR” by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

For Aboriginal people, and in this definition provided for by the Canadian government, they are not represented. Okay, well maybe the community part and the social, environmental and economic concerns but what about culture?

I recently read a journal article titled “The Determinants of Employment Among Aboriginal People” by Coryse Ciceri and Katherine Scott. The article never really talked about CSR but I could apply it to the concept. They set out to answer 4 questions

  1. What is the current employment situation of Aboriginal people? Is it the same for the different groups (FN, Metis, Inuit)? How does their employment standing compare and contrast with the situation of non-Aboriginal Canadians?
  2. What is the probability of Aboriginal people being employed? Is the probability the same for the different Aboriginal groups (FN, Metis, Inuit)? What is the probability of holding employment that matches one’s level of education?
  3. What are the reasons behind the poorer employment outcomes among Aboriginal people compared to non-Aboriginal peoples?
  4. What key issues need to be taken into consideration in the design of policies and programs to improve the labour market outcomes for Aboriginal peoples?

Their conclusion? Well they basically said the following, “…levels of participation in the labour market reveal the problem is not exclusively about employment incentives. Rather, the problem is the jobs.” I couldn’t agree more. The incentives are great. The incentives are large. Their findings also found that Aboriginals tend to be employed at jobs they are either under qualified or over qualified for. They also found that for these programs/policies to work an understanding of “network of circumstances that surround an individual” had to be incorporated. Factors including

  • Social conditions
  • family and community influences
  • workplace alienation
  • individuals’ aspirations
  • transition adjustments
  • access to financial and social support structures
  • sense of identity

How does this mean that I don’t support CSR? Well for one, CSR for corporations isn’t concerned about the individual. Those opportunities are there for those that can afford it. They are there for the ones that have access to it. And access/affordability is not just pertaining to education especially if Aboriginals holding these jobs under these policies are either under qualified or over qualified. Does this mean that they are not reaching their full potential? Maybe so.

When it comes to globalization, as it pertains to CSR, the natural resources cannot be taken advantage of just as much as the people themselves. At the rate globalization and destruction of the environment occurs, those resources will not be around for long. If those resources are not around for long, where will then Aboriginals, those who rely on those resources for cultural connectivity (wherein Aboriginal culture is linked to Aboriginal identity), turn to for the sense of identity? Doesn’t matter, CSR is unconcerned with cultural identity; corporations are there to make the money…seek control over the natural resources. And perhaps, once those resources are used up, they leave. Does this mean Aboriginals will no longer be left with the one thing that differentiates themselves from other groups: their historical and cultural connection to the land (natural resources)? Maybe so.

With CSR, to me, it is a production of globalization. In other words, it is a product of a euphemism that fails to understand or at least acknowledge the issues or “network of circumstances” surrounding Aboriginal people.

Just because something sounds “nice” doesn’t mean it is “good” for everyone as a whole. As I noted earlier, some CSR is good and some not so good. Caution should especially be taken when the Canadian government applies a term with a definition (see above) that doesn’t even acknowledge Aboriginals, the core of Canadian history, in its own definition of what CSR is.

Homelessness in London ON

Well today I had a very interesting day. Not because something unique happened either. It happens to me almost every day; however, I learned something new about the process of it all. And this post, I warn you now will be long and is two-fold in its purposes 😉

I catch the bus almost every day to downtown London ON which is the area considered down by Dundas and Richmond or Richmond street in general. I have to catch 2 buses in order to get to work and depending on which day I go to school, have to catch 2 buses to go to school. Anyways, this time I wasn’t in downtown London when this particular event happened to me but I wasn’t surprised because I recognized the man.

So it began, the man asked me for change. Wait no, he asked me if I had a bus ticket. I politely said no but I knew I had two dollars in my purse (I had the “tooney” so I could buy a coffee–that’s the most I carry on me and not because I get asked for change all the time but it’s all I ever need). I dug into my purse and I told him that I had two dollars. I knew that wasn’t enough for a bus ticket so when I watched him leave the bus stop area and walk towards the convenience store I wondered what he was going to get with two dollars.

He came back with a bottle of coke. He smiled at me and said, “Sorry but I had to buy a bottle of coke because it helps with the hunger.” I didn’t know what to think but I zipped open my bag and I asked him if wanted my lunch. I didn’t have much of a lunch but I am sure it was good enough for him. Raw almonds, an apple, and a bag of carrots. I don’t usually pack a big lunch because I usually either go straight home or to visit friends who usually more often than not share some of their lunch with me. He, of course, said “Yes!” I never saw a man so happy for something so simple: food.

He taught me two things (well, more like reinforced one more than taught me) but 1) I didn’t know that coke could cure hunger (or perhaps that’s all he could get with the two dollars because lord knows that I can’t buy a bottle pop with just two dollars when I do buy one) 2) He reinforced that I am thankful to be where I am today. Big time.

Unfortunately, this incident is not unique. Someone asking me for change, me giving what I can, and if I can giving some of my food or sharing some of my food. I’ve been there. Hungry. And no, I don’t mean after 6 hours of food hungry. I mean, trying to figure out how you are going to spend your three to five dollars to make it last the entire weekend or until you can make more money (and which being broke sometimes lasted for another 36 hours because you debated about what you were willing to do make some money–a scary thought for anyone).

I know that some of you reading this may find this hard to believe but yeah, I never thought I would be where I am today. Sure I was a straight A high school student, went through some hard times, couldn’t deal with it, fell off the track, discovered alcohol and drugs, but one day I woke up and felt that I needed to change. I moved to London ON. No home. No friends. No family. Saw the “flip-side” of London or the London that all my professors talk about in the classroom or that I overhear other kids talking during lecture…The dark side. I felt moving to London would help me. New scene.

It wasn’t exactly all peaches and cream. I experienced this level of hungry. I didn’t know where to go, who to turn to, where any sort of help was. It went on like that for about nine months or until after I applied to college–something that not every young person has the ability to take advantage of. I was able to get the scholarship (remember me, the ex-straight-A-high-school student), pay rent, sleep in a bed, and figure out where I could get food.

Let me tell you, it was rough. Some people say that’s student life. Maybe part of it is, but what about those people who are not students? What about those people who struggle to make ends meet working 2, 3, sometimes 4 jobs, all the while trying to support their family? What about the little guy?

When I read “Fiorito: Joy in struggle: Ms Taylor takes on the bankers” I couldn’t agree more with what was mentioned in her letter. Things mentioned like

  • “Workers, and the working poor, are in trouble.”
  • Or that, “she does not think it fair that a CEO at one time might have made 10 times the salary of the average worker…”
  • Meanwhile “…today a CEO might earn 200, or 300, or in some cases 500 times the average salary.”
  • Or that just because they “give money to youth, for water conservation, for First Nations…” how could they “…be satisfied about the First Nations.”
  • And even a better point, “if they want to give to the community, why don’t they raise wages for people who work in the bank.”

Yeah, the man Ms. Joy Taylor met with, the VP of the Bank and as mentioned in the article, had “no answer.” Being a First Nations person, I am used of not receiving a “no answer” or a “no reply” when trying to stand up against the injustice of other people, and I don’t just mean standing up for exclusively First Nations people. I at least help when I can or stand up for those who are marginalized like homeless people, both young and old, or for those face stigmatization, like living with a mental illness and not being able to receive the proper treatment and care. Anyway before I take away from the point that I believe Ms. Joy Taylor is trying to make about the problems with present-day Canadian society, I really liked how Ms. Taylor added at the end If people have three jobs and can’t make a living . . . anyway, I didn’t expect an answer.” I know that she didn’t get to meet with the CEO but I don’t want her letter writing efforts to go unnoticed. Early this morning, I made this petition titled “I support Joy Taylor’s letter to the Bank CEO,” and if you agree with some of the points she made in her letter and to the bank’s VP then I suggest you

  1. Sign it
  2. Share it
  3. And encourage as many others to sign it

This letter and her efforts will not go unnoticed!

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